Saturday, June 9, 2018

Various Shrug Ideas for Improving the Snatch, C & J, and Deadlift

Note: If you've read enough of Kelso's stuff you've probably noticed that he deals quite often with putting your body in specific positions to better target the desired muscles, as well as "concentrating focus" on same for the same purpose. That, in effect, is the basis of his shrug variation philosophy. Ain't it strange, the way bodybuilders do this and are often considered idiots for even attempting it, yet here it is again, as suggested by a man who is far from inexperienced or lifting-illiterate. I remember two-hundred-forty-seven instances of mentioning Larry Scott and the way he insisted on this form of training for himself (because it worked for him, duh) . . . positioning the body, grip alterations, elbow placement, arc of movement, mental focus to isolate the muscle structures he was after, etc. Consider Vince Gironda's identical ideas on this as well. The pimpers of papers and those who base their training on such fantasy of course disagree vehemently. Most stridently, sirrah.  In my mind the scientific research on this can leave off and take a long, long hike out the door. And take yer white mice with ya. We gots work to do here and yer in the bloody way. By the way, weren't these the same yahoos who told us the sun revolved around the earth for the longest time and the moon was made of the dung of cows jumping over it back there none too longish ago? Again, the results of your training and your hard-fought-for experience in the gym will determine the usefulness and selection of your best methods. You may currently believe individualizing your training and altering/tweaking routines and recommendations will not be needed to bring good results for the length of your lifting life, but somewhere at some point down the line near or far you are going to have to learn to think for yourself, assess your results divorced from what you have been told will work best, strike out on your own, and continue making progress.   

I am not going to discuss the performance and technique of these lifts. If you don't already have that down, go back to it and come back here later. 

These lifts -- the Snatch, Clean & Jerk, and Deadlift -- are different of course, but they have similar stages. The first, for our purposes here, is the initial drive off the floor to the point where the bar is roughly just below the knees. This varies depending on the size and proportions of the lifter. 

The second phase includes thrusting the hips forward while driving the upper body toward the vertical. 

Third, as the body extends vertically the shoulders are shrugged upward followed by arm pulling during the Snatch and C & J. This usually happens too fast for the untrained eye to follow, but it is there.  The arms in the Snatch and C & J! Still more to argue online about!! Yippee!!! In the deadlift, the shrug part of the pull is directed to getting the shoulders back or erect, instead of up, and there is no arm pull. 

At this point I'd like to ask four questions: 

1) Why do so many intermediate lifters practice only the standing shrug when the upper body in the first stage mentioned  is angled at 35-40 degrees in relation to the floor and 55-65 in the second?

2) Why do so many intermediate Olympic lifters use only a clean-width grip in shrug training when the wide grip used in snatching causes a different direction of pull force during contraction of the muscles involved?

3) Why are deadlifters not using their competition over-and-under grip when shrugging in m? Many are coming back to the hook grip. I approve!

Do not misunderstand. I am not leading a crusade against the standing shrug. It's a specific movement within the clean & jerk or deadlift and is absolutely required in gym training so that maximum height may be obtained. However, as it works the upper trap primarily, it may not be the best assistance movement for the lower stages of the lifts. In the lower stages of the three lifts, the traps and lats are engaged in gaining and maintaining bar height as well as stabilizing the bar and keeping it close to the body.

Here's what I recommend in answer to the three questions above:

1) Lie face down on a heavy duty adjustable incline bench set to 35-45 degrees. A freestanding bench is best. This angle should match the angle of the spine in relation to the floor during the initial drive of the pull. Have your training partners hand up the bar.

Mentally focus the contraction on a spot between the shoulder blades. Crunch the scapulae together. Don't contract up toward the ears. The lower the angle of the bench, the more the lats will be involved, especially if an underhand grip is used.   

Don't forget: practice finishing the movement with the shoulder blades DOWN AND TO THE REAR.

Get a full stretch every rep. Grip selection depends on which lift or muscle group is being targeted. Tony Garcy the great USA Olympic lifting champion used these moves in practice. He called them "retractors."  I'm sure he had his detractors, as we all do at some points in our short lives.

Next, move the bench up to 55-65 degrees for a set or two. This setting aids the second stage of the lifts as the lifter drives toward the vertical.

2) Because of the angle of the arms during the snatch, the direction of the shrug at the top of the lift is not just up, but also at an angle roughly from the hands to the base of the neck. The scapulae move toward each other as well as up. Olympic lifters should practice snatch grip shrugs at several angles as well as with the clean width grip. Wide grip is the way it's done during the snatch itself, so why not during the assistance exercise?

3) From what I read of top deadlifters' published routines, most to 25-30 lifts per workout. At least 2/3 of those lifts do not seriously challenge the lifter's ability to get his shoulders back. (Some powerlifting feds now require only that the lifter stand erect, and do not look for an exaggerated, shoulders back finish.) A few sets of lat pulls and shrugs are tacked on at the end. The standing shrugs are usually pulled up and then back. This is not a good practice for powerlifters as it may develop the bad habit of causing the bar to drop at the completion of the lift and earn a red light. (There is a trend in the last few years not to pull back toward the rear when doing the standing shrug as an assistance exercise. I agree, especially if you are doing inclined or lean forward shrugs as well.)

Why not practice shrugs on a bench using the two angles above and work ALL the muscles of the upper back involved in drawing the shoulders to the rear. [Note: you use these muscles to great effect when bench pressing for powerlifting purposes as wall, hint hint.] Lean-forward shrugs will increase all lifter's ability to "set" their shoulders at the beginning of the lifts and keep the upper back straight and the head up throughout.

These will improve your deadlift. My training diary shows a 55-lb. gain in my DL after three months of practicing these movements at different angles the first time I tried them seriously.

You might practice the over-under competition deadlift regularly with the lean-forward shrugs for two reasons. One, obviously, it's the grip used in competition. Secondly, there is a very subtle difference in the muscle action between one side of the back as compared to the other when using the over-under grip. These shrugs will help keep the bar close to the body during which is very important. However, more and more lifters find that the over-under grip causes a disparity in back development as well as uneven stress. Some, have switched to a double overhand hook grip as used by Olympic lifters for this reason.

A little trick: This next bit has nothing to do with shrugs or traps but I'm going to shoehorn it in. Back in the days when the '55 Chevy was the hottest car in America and I was trying to switch my style from splitting to squatting with the snatch, old time holder of one-hand lift world records Roy Smith suggested I knurl my fingernails. Huh? That's right, take a nail or any sharp point and dig three or four grooves in your thumbnails the long way, from cuticle to the tip of the nail. When you clasp your forefinger over the nail for the hook grip, the grooves prevent slippage. If using the regular thumb-over finger grip, groove your fingernails horizontally across the nail. Some lifters simply rough up their nails on the bar knurling back in the warmup room.

We figured this trick was worth five additional pounds on a lift. Not much, you say? Many a world title has been won by that margin.

On the lean-forward shrugs, I suggest using an incline bench or some other support so that greater weights may be used and more specific muscle groups targeted. Many lifters are capable of handling huge weights for sets and reps with shrug movements, so straps may be a good idea. Alexeev (how many ways has this guy's name been spelled) is known to have standing-shrugged 900 pound for reps, as have other weightlifters.

Truly prodigious poundages are possible. There are no "world records" for shrugs, as no contest has ever been held for them as a lift that I know about, so we have only gym anecdotes. Rising powerlifter Josh Bryant reported as of January 2002 to have done 1035 x 5 in the standing shrug and a hold off the rack with 1175! He was 20 years old at the time and weighed around 300 pounds.

I would be remiss if I did not point out that many top deadlifters do not regularly practice shrugs, preferring to practice pulls at different heights in the power rack. Some set their traps in a contracted upward position before starting the pull and try to hold that position throughout the rep, thereby getting a huge positive/negative benefit (see Chapter Two of "Kelso's Shrug Book" - Shrug Variations). Keith Wassung (Yeah Baby . . . one more time!) told me in an email in February 2000 that he does this during a partial deadlift from his knees!

The Hise Shrug - Power Style

I said earlier I'd talk about shrug variations for the five current competitive lifts. What kind of shrug variation could help the squat? I know of no shrug that can build up hip and thigh strength.

But I do know one that will build confidence and upper body power and allow the lifter to manhandle a lot of weight. It's performed by shouldering a heavy bar and shrugging or hunching it upwards while taking deep breaths to build bulk and power. This movement will get new trainees past the stage of the bar hurting the shoulders, knit the shoulder girdle together and strengthen the entire upper torso.

Obviously I'm talking about the Hise Shrug (see Chapter Two of Kelso's Shrug Book - Shrug Variations). The story of Joseph Curtis Hise has been told many times, so I won't get into it, but he has been called the first powerlifter. The Hise shrug and high-rep breathing squats have been the key to many bulk and power courses since the 1930s. This was the first shrug other than the basic standing movement I ever attempted, way back in 1954. But for competition training, let's do it a little differently.

Unlike the breathing style Hise Shrug described in Chapter Two, back out of the rack with a weight you can squat for 6-8 reps. Do not use a powerlifter stance; keep the bar in the normal high-bar position. Breathe in and shrug up toward the ears with trap and scapular action.

Eventually, many lifters will be able to handle weights in excess of the their best squat. This will increase squatting ability as the lifter gains shoulder girdle stability and his confidence will soar as he practices backing out ("walkouts") and setting up with overloads. Again, I do not recommend going so heavy that less than six reps can be performed. 6-8 reps should be sufficient; we are not trying for ribcage expansion here.

The back shrugs I described will help keep the back straight and the head up during the squat. Combining them with the Hise movement helps prevent losing the bar forward during the squat.

Wrapping it up: 

Powerlifters might add two sets of Hise shrugs after the squat, bench shrugs or cable crossover shrugs when BP training, and face down incline bench "Kelso" shrugs and rack holds for deadlift assistance.

Olympic lifters will want to try snatch and clean grip shrugs at the positions discussed: initial, mid-point, and vertical. I say try them all, but get serious about those that meet immediate needs such as sticking points, getting the shoulders back, or the drive explosion in bench pressing. 

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